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Rights body urges Greece to step up anti-corruption efforts

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Strasbourg (France) (AFP)

The Council of Europe is urging Greece to make "material progress" in rooting out corruption among lawmakers, judges and prosecutors, criticising in particular a lack of transparency in the country's legal system, in two reports released Thursday.

The rights watchdog found that just six of 19 recommendations made by its GRECO anti-corruption commission in 2015 had been dealt with "in a satisfactory manner".

"Further significant material progress is necessary to demonstrate that an acceptable level of compliance with the recommendations with the next 18 months can be achieved," it said.

The reports come after Greece's parliament opened an inquiry last month into claims that nearly a dozen senior politicians received bribes from or helped promote Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis during their term in office.

The council found that little progress had been made on stripping immunity from lawmakers suspected of corruption offences, with "the number of denials to lift parliamentary immunity still outweighs significantly the number of requests approved."

And the government has yet to push through a constitutional change that would make it easier to prosecute current and former government officials.

The council also called on Greece to set clear standards of conduct for judges and prosecutors, and to require the input of peer review in their appointments instead of having them named solely by the government.

It added that no progress had been made on reducing long delays in court proceedings, or for handling complaints against undue delays.

But the council welcomed new rules requiring disclosures of gifts to lawmakers and potential conflicts of interest, as well as more transparency on declarations of MPs assets and income.

With regards to political party financing, the council took aim at a new fundraising rule that permits anonymous donations, "just two years after banning anonymous donations completely".

Greece was ranked 59th among the 180 countries in Transparency International's corruption perceptions index for 2017.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said fighting the systemic corruption and cronyism that has tainted Greek political life for decades is a priority.

The pledge is part of the cash-for-reforms deals struck with international creditors after the country's economy imploded in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

The GRECO body, consisting of 48 European nations and the United States, was formed in 1999 to help members clamp down on corruption.

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